The Unpleasant Reality Of Taking The GMAT: From A 700 To A 730

studyingMy first experience with the GMAT was …unpleasant. I walked out of the Pearson Vue Testing Center feeling like I had been worked over for three and one-half  hours, and to top it all off, I had eked out a respectable 700. A good score, but unfortunately below average at my target schools, which went along nicely with my below average GPA. It was a very frustrating feeling. It was basically like I was being told, nice job, but, you know, it doesn’t seem like you’ll be able to cut it in our program as an overall below average candidate. Or at least that’s what I imagined the CBS admissions committee would say when my app came across their desk.

So for the next few weeks I spent a lot of time thinking about what went wrong and I eventually realized that my biggest problem was that I had let the test get to me. Or, more specifically, I let the clock get to me.

Something about having those seconds ticking down just at the periphery of my vision made me forget my entire game plan midway through the quantitative section. I’m not sure exactly which question or group of questions it happened on, but at some point the clock turned its eye on me, Sauron-like, and worked it’s dark magic. I then proceeded to fall squarely into the deadliest of traps: I thought I had to solve the hardest problems on the test to get a good score, no matter the cost. And by the time I realized my mistake, it was already too late. The clock had won and knew it, triumphantly ticking away second by second, well aware that I was now impossibly far behind.  It was only then that I recognized my true enemy was not the test material, but that malicious timer, casually positioned in the top right corner, watching my every move and plotting to take me down.

But we know how that ends; we’ve been there, done that, got matching t-shirts. This post is supposed to be about THIS test, THIS time around. And the biggest difference in round two was my mindset towards timing and REALLY letting go of those problems I had no business messing with.

A few weeks before my test, I stumbled upon one Chris Berman, an excellent actor, funny writer, and insightful GMAT advisor. I highly recommend everyone read his free articles (about 6-7 total and each one is very entertaining and enlightening), but I especially recommend you read him if you struggle with letting go, like I did. Oh hey, here’s a handy link to his articles. You’re welcome.

To paraphrase the piece of advice I found most helpful – Do not waste your valuable, valuable time on questions you have no chance of solving. He suggests that you treat those tough problems as opportunities to get some time back. For example, if you find yourself struggling and time is ticking on, recognize that you are struggling, quickly make your best guess and keep on trucking. The test will reward you for your decisiveness.

Eh, just go read his stuff, he has a lot more to say and he says it way better than I can.

That’s it though, that was my big change on the second test. As far as studying went, I focused much less on content and much more on keeping my mind right and beating that clock. If you’re really curious about the test day, I’ll walk you through it below, but if you just wanted the highlights, you already got them and may want to stop here, as there’s not much more I can offer and this post is already running way too long.

Twas the Night Before G-Day…

This whole Friday, unlike last G-Day Eve, I did zero review. I woke up. I went to work. I came home. I ate dinner with my girlfriend. I caught up on my Breaking Bad. I got everything ready for test day. I brought a small container of 70% cacao dark chocolate disks for the caffeine and sugar hit, and I also packed a can of illy coffee that I never actually drank. I set my alarm. I relaxed. I went to sleep early.

G-DAY

I hauled my butt out of bed at 5:00 am, but my brain struggled to wake up with me. I gulped down two cups of coffee and started to feel like I was semi-human. My amazing girlfriend made me a high-protein breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, toasted sourdough bread and Greek yogurt, which really brought me back to life. And just before I walked out the door, I read a couple of my favorite Berman articles, one final time.

As I drove to the test center, I maintained extreme focus, determined to hit the GMAT with my best shot. I walk into the testing center ready to lay down the law and the GMAT immediately countered with a pleasant lady offering me a seat and asking me to take a number as they were about to start checking everyone in for the 8 a.m. test. My roll was sufficiently slowed, and I struggled to spot an open seat as I worked my way through the packed room to pick up my number – 12B. Slowly, the kind lady worked her way through the queue of people, and although I arrived twenty minutes early, I didn’t hear my number called until twenty minutes after my appointed test start time. I mentally shook my fist at the clock and imagined shouting, “TIIIIIIIIIIMEEEEEE!” us being arch nemeses and all that.